Your Complete Guide to Bike Saddle Adjustments
If you want to stay comfortable for thousands of miles on your bike, nothing is more important than your saddle. Choosing the right saddle can determine whether your cycling days are short-lived or last a lifetime.
But it’s not only about having the right saddle on your bike. Even the best saddle can be uncomfortable if you don’t know how to achieve proper bike saddle positioning.
And when it comes to bike saddle adjustments, there’s a lot more to it than you probably think.
“Most people think there is just one adjustment — saddle height,” says longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie. “That’s all they think about.”
As an expert in bike fits, Darryl is here to tell you that’s only scratching the surface. In fact, there are five types of bike saddle adjustments you need to make to ensure perfect positioning and comfort on your bike. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at all of them, including some points that are unique to Selle Anatomica saddles.
Although it's not the only measurement that matters, saddle height is certainly the most important measurement to get right — so much so that we’ve covered how to make sure your saddle stays at the right height in another post.
“Of the people who come to me for a bike fit, 80% of them have a saddle that is too low,’ says Coach Darryl. Because you can’t fully extend your knee when your saddle is too low, this diminishes your climbing strength. It’s also been associated with discomfort in the front part of the knee.
When done correctly, saddle height is measured in a straight line from the center of the pedal, up the center of the crank arm as it is positioned as an extension to the seat tube, up the center of the seat tube and the seat post, to a position at the very top of the saddle. This is the position where your leg is extended as far as it can go on the bike.
In that specific position, you want the angle on the inside of your knee to be at around 145 degrees. A professional bike fitter will actually measure this as 35 degrees, which is the angle outside the knee (180 minus 145 is 35 degrees). When your saddle is too low or too high, this angle will be off and your leg will extend too far or not far enough.
You can check this angle with a device called a goniometer, which physicians use to measure range of motion in joints. Typically, cyclists will find anything between 30 and 35 degrees on the goniometer comfortable, so you can try some adjustments within that range until you find your optimal power and comfort.
The front-to-back bike saddle positioning — how close to or far it is from the handlebars — also has a major impact on power because it affects how much of your strength is applied or wasted during the pedal stroke. Like saddle height, it has also been associated with discomfort in the front of the knee.
If your saddle is too far forward, you’ll be pushing backward through a lot of your stroke, which is not efficient. If it’s too far back, you’ll be pushing forward, which is not efficient either. What you want is primarily to push downward and a little forward, where your leg strength is most effectively applied, especially when climbing.
Here again, Darryl aims for precision. When your pedals are positioned at nine and three on the clock (parallel to the ground), your front knee should be 1.5 centimeters — roughly six-tenths of an inch — behind the center of the spindle of your front pedal. In other words, if you dropped a plumb line from the groove of your knee (where the inside of the knee cap is near the leg bone) down to where your front pedal is, the distance from the the plumb line to your pedal should be 1.5 centimeters.
If this is off, your saddle needs to move along its rails farther toward the front or back until it’s right. Keep in mind that you may want a shorter distance than 1.5 centimeters if you are shorter, and a longer distance if you are taller.
Saddle Nose Pitch
The pitch of your saddle describes whether it’s level or the nose is angled slightly up or down compared to the butt end. Here, there is a significant difference between Selle Anatomica’s saddles and others.
For Most Saddles
Most cyclists will find a saddle that’s level or pitches very slightly downward at the nose is most comfortable. It’s important to emphasize that the downward angle should only be very slight, if at all. Too far down, and you’ll put too much pressure on your soft tissues.
For Selle Anatomica Saddles
When you switch to a Selle Anatomica saddle, though, this is a critical bike saddle adjustment to get right. You’ll actually be aiming for an opposite pitch compared to what you’re used to. For a Selle saddle, the nose should pitch slightly upward. This helps the saddle’s natural leather tension to create a comfortable hammock for your buttocks.
To get this right, it’s easiest to use a digital level or a straight edge to measure the vertical difference from the height of the nose down to one of the dimples at the widest point on either side of the butt of our saddle. For most people, the nose should be about 2–3 degrees higher than the dimple — a difference in height of roughly 10 millimeters (four-tenths of an inch).
“This is by far the most important measurement on a Selle Anatomica saddle,” says Darryl. “When it’s properly set up, everybody says, ‘Wow, that’s so much more comfortable.’”
Here again, we’re looking at the angle of the nose, but this time it’s about where it’s pointing left to right. Typically, you want the nose to point directly forward. If you were to run a straight edge from the center of the back of the saddle through the center of the nose of the saddle to the top center point of your steering tube, it should be a perfectly straight line.
That’s generally true for most cyclists, but not all. In some cases, you might want the nose to point just a little bit to the right or left for a more comfortable ride. For instance, if one of your legs is slightly shorter than the other, you might want to point the nose slightly toward your longer leg to shorten the distance for the shorter leg. Likewise, due to female anatomy, some women find that a slight angle to either side is more comfortable.
Leather Tension (For Selle Anatomica Saddles)
This final measurement is unique to Selle Anatomica saddles, all of which come equipped with a bolt you can turn to adjust the tension of the leather. You’ll find that you need to adjust this a few times over the first 100 miles, then a few more over the next 200 and again over the next 400 miles or so. After the first 1,000 or 1,500 miles, you’ll only need to adjust this tension occasionally to maintain maximum comfort. All you need to adjust the tension is a 6 millimeter Allen wrench to turn the bolt (a counter-clockwise turn when looking at the bolt from the front of the bike will tighten it).
Aside from the feel, there is an easy visual test you can perform to see if your leather tension is right. At the narrowest point in the slit that runs down the center of the saddle, the gap should be about 6 millimeters wide. The easiest way to check this is to stick another 6 millimeter Allen wrench into the center of the opening. It should fit just enough to catch at the narrowest point without getting stuck there.
If you keep that dialed in, along with these other saddle adjustments, you should be set for a comfortable ride anytime you get out there. As always, feel free to contact us with any questions about proper bike saddle positioning.
Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.
Photo courtesy of Bilenky Cycle Works